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New Wingnut Meme: Sedition Law Needed

Booman Tribune | February 21 2006

Sedition is a word with a long, and embarrassing, history in the United States, beginning with the "Alien and Sedition Acts" passed by our second President, John Adams, and used to arrest a number of newspaper publishers who supported opponents of Adams' Federalist party. Fortunately for the country, the law expired on the last day of Adam's first (and only) term in office.
Sadly, Adams was not the last president to suppress dissent through the use of laws against sedition. Woodrow Wilson, during World War I, enforced two laws, the Espionage Act and the Sedition Act, that provided for the arrest of anyone who expressed antiwar or anti-government opinions. Over 2000 people were arrested, the most famous of which was Socialist spokesman Eugene V. Debs, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

And of course, who can forget the internment of thousands of Japanese Americans by FDR during WWII, or the activities of the House Unamerican Activities Committee (HUAC) during the Cold War. All very dark and shameful pages in American history, where people were convicted for holding beliefs that the government deemed subversive (or in the case of the Japanese Americans for having the wrong ethnicity).

You would like to think that such unconstitutiuonal episodes would be behind us by now. Yet, the idea of passing a new federal sedition law and prosecuting those who choose to speak out against President Bush and his administration is once again being bandied about in the right wing corner of the blogosphere, in their desire to eliminate the voice of dissent in this country. Under the banner of phony patriotism, and the flagrant misrepresentation of the views of Bush's critics, they claim the need for a new sedition act so that "enemies of the state" can be prosecuted for the traitorous assistance their spoken words give to terrorists. Enemies of the state like -- well, like Al Gore:


Last Sunday, former Vice President Al Gore spoke before the Jiddah Economic Forum. He told the mostly Saudi audience that the United States had committed "terrible atrocities" against Arabs after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. He stated that Arabs had been "indiscriminately rounded up" and detained in "unforgivable conditions." He criticized America's new immigration policy, which more carefully scrutinizes Saudi visas, explaining, "The thoughtless way in which visas are now handled, that is a mistake." Finally, he concluded, "There have been terrible abuses, and it's wrong. … I want you to know that it does not represent the desires or wishes or feelings of the majority of the citizens of my country."
These are outrageous statements. And the silence from the left is deafening. The Democratic National Committee told me that they had not released a statement regarding Gore's speech and had no plans to do so. The New York Times editorial board, the official outlet of the American left, wrote nary a word about the speech.

It is now considered bad form to criticize those who commit seditious acts against the United States. Challenging the patriotism of a traitor draws more ire than engaging in treasonable activities. Calling out those who undermine our nation creates more of a backlash than actually undermining our nation.

Let us consider, however, the probable consequences of Gore's mea culpa on behalf of the "majority" of his countrymen. No doubt his words will fuel the massive tide of propaganda spewing forth from Muslim dictatorships around the globe. No doubt his words will be used to bolster the credibility of horrific disinformation like the Turkish-made, Gary-Busey-and-Billy Zane-starring monstrosity "Valley of the Wolves: Iraq," which accuses American troops of war atrocities and depicts a Jewish-American doctor (Busey) slicing organs out of Arab victims and shipping the body parts off to New York, London and Israel. No doubt Gore's speech will precipitate additional violence against Americans in Iraq and around the globe.

And Gore is not alone. Much of the language of the "loyal opposition" has been anything but loyal. In September 2002, Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) called President Bush a liar on Saddam Hussein's turf, then added that Hussein's regime was worthy of American trust. On "Face the Nation" back in December, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) stated that American troops were "going into the homes of Iraqis in the dead of night, terrorizing kids and children, you know, women, breaking sort of the customs of the -- of, of, of historical customs, religious customs …" Howard Dean, the head of the DNC, averred in December that the "idea that we're going to win the war in Iraq is an idea which is just plain wrong."

At some point, opposition must be considered disloyal. At some point, the American people must say "enough." At some point, Republicans in Congress must stop delicately tiptoeing with regard to sedition and must pass legislation to prosecute such sedition.

Ignore for a moment the possibility that Gore's remarks may have been misrepresented by the author of this screed (as indeed they were). Assume that everything he claims about Gore's speech is correct. Even making that generous assumption, do any of you really believe that Gore's remarks, ill-considered or otherwise, to this audience in Saudi Arabia, justify arrest and imprisonment for exercising his first amendment right to free speech? We've seen far worse from noted right wing pundits like Ann Coulter, who suggested that someone should poison a sitting associate justice of the Supreme Court. Yet Gore's comments, in their minds, deserve arrest and imprisonment? Why? Well, here's their answer to you:


Under the Espionage Act of 1917, opponents of World War I were routinely prosecuted, and the Supreme Court routinely upheld their convictions. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes rightly wrote, "When a nation is at war, many things that might be said in time of peace are such a hindrance to its effort that their utterance will not be endured so long as men fight and that no Court could regard them as protected by any constitutional right." The Allies won World War I.
During World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt authorized the internment of hundreds of thousands of Japanese-Americans, as well as allowing the prosecution and/or deportation of those who opposed the war. The Allies won World War II.

During the Vietnam War, the Supreme Court repeatedly upheld the free speech rights of war opponents, whether those opponents distributed leaflets depicting the rape of the Statue of Liberty or wore jackets emblazoned with the slogan "F--- the Draft." America lost the Vietnam War.

You see? When America suppresses dissent it wins its wars, and when it doesn't it loses them. In other words, patriotic Americans who want to win the grand and glorious war on that nefarious verb "TERROR" should be cool with a little government suppression of free speech, especially the speech of anyone who dares to question our Republican leader's actions in this time of war. Americans love to win, after all, so we should be willing to put up with a few arrests of prominent Democrats who dare to say speak up in opposition to this war.

Could any justification be more odious? Forget for a moment the faulty logic which equates suppressing dissent with victory. Do you really want to live in a country that ditches it's most cherished values over the side of the ship of state whenever we are at war? Well, these conservatives (and I use the term ironically) do. And, of course, it's not just Gore they'd like to hang from the yardarm. They also have the hots for Congressman Jim McDermott (D - Wash), Senator John Kerry and Howard Dean:


And Gore is not alone. Much of the language of the "loyal opposition" has been anything but loyal. In September 2002, Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) called President Bush a liar on Saddam Hussein's turf, then added that Hussein's regime was worthy of American trust. On "Face the Nation" back in December, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) stated that American troops were "going into the homes of Iraqis in the dead of night, terrorizing kids and children, you know, women, breaking sort of the customs of the -- of, of, of historical customs, religious customs …" Howard Dean, the head of the DNC, averred in December that the "idea that we're going to win the war in Iraq is an idea which is just plain wrong."
Forget that everything these prominent Democrats said (taken out of context here by Mr. Shapiro -- go check out the debunking of his fraudulent claims against Rep. McDermott at Martini Republic) is true. Bush really did have no valid reason for invading Iraq. American troops do break into the homes of Iraqi at night and cause terror to the families of what are frequently innocent and unsuspecting individuals. And Howard Dean looks like a prophet considering the true state of affairs in Iraq today. My point is that Mr. Shapiro and his ilk don't care about the truth, what they care about is eliminating opposition to Republican Party rule.

For anyone who thinks I may be making a mountain out of a molehill, stop and consider for a moment what might happen in the event of another terrorist attack on American soil. It could happen, you know. This is the administration that failed to take warnings about Al Queda seriously before 9/11, and the one that screwed the pooch on Katrina. As dyed in the wool Bush apologist Tommy Franks warned back in 2003 in the event of another terrorist attack “... the Western world, the free world, loses what it cherishes most, and that is freedom and liberty we’ve seen for a couple of hundred years in this grand experiment that we call democracy.” Indeed he went further to add that the Constitution might very well be scrapped and a military government take over.

So don't be so quick to dismiss this as just overblown rhetoric from a right wing blowhard. The fact that conservatives are even raising the possibility of sedition laws is profoundly disturbing in light of our past history, and in light of the present administration's claims to untrammeled executive authority. We need to respond vigorously now to these audacious proposals to limit our liberty, because when the next terrorist attack (or ginned up war) occurs it will be too late.

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